A time for cuts

Last month, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks announced a hiring freeze for open positions across the University. On a college level, schools are looking at cutting their costs by double-digit percentiles over the next six to 18 months. Such activity is now common across the country, with state governments like CaliforniaâÄôs facing budget shortfalls and governments on all levels making tough decisions. There is, however, a silver lining to this economic situation, forcing some bloated bureaucratic systems to become leaner, and further proving that sometimes, change only comes after a problem hits hard. The University system could definitely use a good hiring freeze to increase efficiency and hopefully strive for a goal that, one day, students will no longer worry about double-digit tuition increases at a public school. A rising unemployment rate is not something most economists will tell you is a positive. But a strict evaluation of the benefit of having some positions at all will serve us well. Never before in our lifetimes have governments had to really prioritize their spending, although they pretend to have to make impossible decisions every time a budget approval process commences. At the White House, where President-elect Barack Obama has virtually set up a tent in the backyard âÄî let the hate mail begin âÄî the incoming administration has changed its tone to considering drastic spending cuts. This is quite different from the rhetoric on the campaign trail of more spending for every department imaginable. In fact, itâÄôs fascinating to hear Obama speak to eliminating useless pork like agriculture subsidies to one million farmers. While campaigning, the answer we heard most from him was that earmarks were only a small piece of the pie. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have instated hiring freezes on a state level and halted many nonessential service contracts. Nobody likes cuts, but fewer employees mean fewer dollars from tax revenue coming into the treasury. Families have all made sacrifices at home. So, then, must the government. This is an opportunity, not a hurdle, and our elected leaders must use the financial crisis to flush out inefficiencies in places like the U.S. Department of Education, where Citizens Against Government Waste predicts that as little as 26 percent of funding actually reaches students in the classroom. In Minneapolis, Mayor R.T. Rybak proposed a hiring freeze for the city. Like the University, this economy will have to lead to more thought and compromise with the Legislature when negotiating local government aid with cities across Minnesota. The University will now be forced to request only essentials âÄî a feat some lawmakers thought they would never see. With the coming budget deficit in St. Paul and lagging incomes for families of future students, Bruininks and the Regents must demand efficiency and restructuring within the bureaucracy. There has been some progress in the last few years, and Bruininks deserves some credit that we are not suffering more financially. But the University must strive to operate like a business, biting any bullet necessary to avoid higher tuition and fees. Students are working long and late hours in place of homework, available jobs for graduates are on the decline and liquid credit for future homeowners and entrepreneurs is at a standstill. Ronald Reagan said a government bureau is âÄú âĦ the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth,âÄù but Reagan didnâÄôt face the crisis weâÄôre in. The time to reform unnecessary spending on every level is now. Andy Post welcomes comments at [email protected]